Barkerville Historic Town and Park has issued an apology for an ad that it said could be interpreted as making light of one of the darkest chapters in the history of B.C. Indigenous peoples.
The ad “Surviving Pandemics Since 1862” by Barkerville caught the attention of several historians including archaeologist and anthropologist Joanne Hammond.
A day before Barkerville issued the public apology, Hammond noted on social media that more than 60 per cent of Indigenous people in B.C. were killed by a smallpox epidemic in 1862-1863 that was spread by miners bound for the Cariboo.
“This is a bad ad,” she wrote on Twitter. “Indigenous death is not a marketing ploy.”
In the June 4 apology, Barkerville chief executive officer Kate Cox apologized for any hurt and confusion the ad has caused.
This is a good response to a serious error. https://t.co/Qn3J46zdqC
— Joanne Hammond (@KamloopsArchaeo) July 4, 2020
“We did not mean to appear as though we were celebrating disease, nor the devastation caused by historical epidemics,” Cox stated. “We acknowledge that we have inadvertently done just that, and unequivocally apologize for our error.”
The recent newspaper ad has been removed from any further campaign communications, Cox added.
She said they are in the process of having an open and progressive conversation with Barkerville’s Indigenous interpreters and regional partners about the ad, and how they might use their mistake as an opportunity to engage in a broader, more uncomfortable conversation.
“Regardless of our original intent, we obviously see that we need to expand upon the context of our word choices in any future messaging and promise to do so. The dialogue that has begun as a result of our error is extremely important and welcome, and we hope to be able to continue this conversation in a meaningful way, in the months and years to come.”
Limited to 200 visitors per day, exhibits, public programming, campground, accommodations and some shops and eateries reopened at Barkerville on July 3.
Barkerville, which recruited its first on-site Indigenous interpreter last summer, will be holding its seventh annual Indigenous Celebrations on Saturday, July 18.
Hammond said anyone who suggests she had overreacted to the ad, has not been taught an accurate history of colonization in B.C in which the exploitation of unceded lands continues to this day.
A spokesperson from Barkerville did not return a request for further comment.